Nationals' Daniel Murphy likely to stay in Florida as knee rehab continues

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- All-Star second baseman Daniel Murphy is likely to remain in Florida when the Washington Nationals break camp.

Murphy had micro-fracture surgery on his right knee on Oct. 20 and has not appeared in any major league or minor league spring training games. His rehabilitation has taken longer than expected, and Howie Kendrick or Wilmer Difo is expected to start at second in Thursday's opener at Cincinnati.

"He's coming along," new manager Dave Martinez said. "Might see him maybe get some at-bats here in the next week or so down in the minor league camp."

A three-time All-Star, Murphy turns 33 on April 1. He is eligible for free agency after the season.

The 34-year-old Kendrick is a career .291 hitter with 104 home runs. He also plays the outfield.

"They kind of told me, you should get all your reps in the infield and just be ready to play," he said.

Difo, 23, hit .271 last year, his first full season in the majors.

Oft-injured first baseman Ryan Zimmerman has played in just one major league spring training game, opting for time in the batting cages and in minor league games.

"He's a guy that doesn't really like spring training, and he's had a good spring training," Martinez said. "He says he's ready to go."

Zimmerman's lone big league game this spring was March 2. Martinez expects Zimmerman to be in the Opening Day lineup.

"He feels good," the manager said. "He's going to run later on, and then we'll evaluate what's going on after that."

Pitcher Jeremy Hellickson made his first start of the exhibition season as part of a split squad against Miami but won't be part of the first turn through the rotation.

"We're going to open up with A.J. Cole being our fifth starter," Martinez said. "He's had a good camp, good spring training. I liked the way he threw all spring, so hopefully he continues that."

Washington signed Hellickson to a minor league deal last weekend, and if he moves into the rotation, Cole could shift to the bullpen.

Because of off-days, Washington might start Max Scherzer in the fifth game on full rest.